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Celtic Phoenix or Celtic Tiger revisited?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 19th, 2014 at 09:39:52 PM EST

Ireland has been producing some fairly decent economic statistics for a couple of years now - despite the general stagnation in the Eurozone and the continuing "consolidation" of the public finances as the Troika imposed austerity plan seeks to reduce the current budget deficit to below 3% by next year. But the latest figures showing 9% GNP growth and 7.7% GDP growth in the last 12 months take the breath away, and even if they prove to be something of an anomaly, would seem to indicate that the Irish economy has reached take-off velocity despite the heavy gravitational pull of public sector spending cuts, a 125% debt to GDP ratio, and stagnant external markets.

About 5% of Irish GNP and GNP can be attributed to the tax avoidance strategies of (mainly US) corporates basing themselves in Ireland for tax purposes, whilst in reality, the vast bulk of their activities take place elsewhere. The marked divergence between GNP and GDP growth above can also be attributed in large part to the so called "Patent Cliff" which has resulted in a large fall in the value of pharmaceutical exports as blockbuster drugs like Lipator and Viagra come off-patent.

Ireland is the fifth biggest exporter of drugs in the world, and Irish chemical and pharmaceutical exports surged by more than a quarter in the five years to 2011 when they peaked at €56bn, a figure equivalent to almost a third of gross domestic product.  But the employment content of those exports is relatively small, and what is clear from these recent figures is that there is a much more broadly based recovery taking place in the Irish economy which is now even making up for the fall in drug export revenues.

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Why Scotland may now vote YES to independence

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 11th, 2014 at 04:18:10 AM EST

Luis de Sousa's excellent diary has provoked a long comment by me saying a lot of things I've been meaning to say for some time, but which are not all a direct response to his thoughts.  So I think a separate diary is merited analyzing what has changed in the Scottish Independence debate.

What I think has shifted the debate in Scotland is the realization that institutions and assets which they had always been told were British, were in fact English.

Thus the Pound Sterling belongs to England (the central bank name: Bank of England should have been a giveaway).  The military bases and manufacturing facilities in Scotland will be moved south - proving that the Army and associated industries belong to England not all of Britain.  And the general sense that the Scots will have to develop all institutions and skills of Governance from scratch - as if Scots have had no hand act or part of the Departments of State in Whitehall.

In other words the implied blackmail of taking all these things away has only confirmed that Scotland was being ruled not just from, but by, England in the first place.  Parties to a divorce normally split their joint assets and one party cannot claim virtually all the house and contents as their own: and yet this is partly what the No campaign have been claiming.

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Russia EU Rapprochement: Cui Bono?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 7th, 2014 at 12:59:00 PM EST

Usually when I write a diary it is because I want to present a thesis and make an argument; one I have not seen expressed elsewhere, but one which I think has at least some evidence pointing in its favour.  My hope is that commentators here will either debunk the thesis or present further supporting facts/arguments.

Thus in Time for Europe to get real I presented the argument that if the EU has a problem with Russian actions in Ukraine, the appropriate response is not sanctions, but a strategic plan to reduce European energy dependence on Russian gas.

In An Irish perspective on Scottish Independence, I expressed surprise at the lack of debate on the case for and against Scottish indepence both here and elsewhere outside the UK, and tried to fill some of that gap by providing a perspective based on the Irish historical experience of independence.

And in Merkel, Putin & Obama: The changing balance of power I tried to present a thesis that the USA has engaged in imperial over-reach and has alienated many potential allies in the process, so much so that Merkel and Putin may even be driven to reach an historic rapprochement in an effort to restore some sanity and balance to world affairs.

I am very grateful to the many commentators here and elsewhere who have added to our collective knowledge of these topics, but also a bit non-plussed that two of the last three diary discussion threads have been largely taken over by a discussion of the causes of the MH17 tragedy, especially after Colman had already published a front page story on that subject.

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Merkel, Putin & Obama: The changing balance of power

by Frank Schnittger Wed Aug 6th, 2014 at 04:11:13 AM EST

The USA has been the undisputed Global superpower since the collapse of the Soviet Union; dominating the world militarily, politically, economically and culturally. In recent times China has begun to make some inroads into that economic dominance, Russia has begun to become more assertive again, and Merkel has consolidated her position as undisputed leader of the Eurozone. But the most significant changes have possibly been within the USA itself.

First came 9/11 which punctured the sense of American invincibility: that the US could do what it liked abroad without it having much in the way of repercussions at home. In military terms the event wasn't all that significant: 3,000 deaths is all in a weeks work in some of the bloodier conflicts around the world.  But what was significant was the reaction: America went collectively mad.

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An Irish perspective on Scottish Independence

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 30th, 2014 at 08:51:50 PM EST


Scotland votes in an independence referendum on 18 September.

Whilst the debate on independence is hotting up in Scotland, I have been surprised at the lack of discussion both here and in Ireland.  Indeed Irish Government Ministers have been briefed to avoid commenting on the issue one way or the other.  So far the major "external" interventions have been by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, saying that an independent Scotland can't have the "British pound", and outgoing EC President Barosso saying that Scotland can't take continued EU membership for granted.  Both have been seen as somewhat maladroit attempts to bully Scotland into remaining within the UK.

For those interested in following the debate in Scotland more closely, a good summary can be found here.  I am interested in discussing the issue primarily from an Irish perspective, but hope this diary will provoke a broader discussion here.

On the face of it, you would expect Ireland to be exhibit A in any discussion on the feasibility of an independent Scotland: after all Ireland and Scotland are close neighbours, share a somewhat similar Celtic cultural background and language, and are of remarkably similar size in terms of GDP, area and population (Ireland €162 Billion, 84,421 km², 4.6 M; Scotland €161 Billion, 78,387 km², 5.3M).

However from what I can see, Ireland has barely featured in the discussion.  I suspect that the demise of the Celtic Tiger and the embarrassing bank bail-out has reduced Ireland to the rather wayward cousin no one mentions to avoid embarrassment all round.  Indeed the referendum could not have been timed better from the point of view of advocates of the Union, what with Ireland having fallen from grace, and the EU and Euro generally seen as being in something of a mess.

But if you were trying to articulate a view on Scottish independence based on the Irish experience, what would it be?

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Time for Europe to get real

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 26th, 2014 at 03:04:09 AM EST

298 mostly European civilians lost their lives when a civilian airliner was apparently shot down by a sophisticated homing missile available only to the most advanced armies in the world and fired from an area controlled by Ukrainian insurgents. Such weapons had allegedly been previously used to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft. Whether it was operated by Ukrainian insurgents, Russian "advisers", or regular Russian troops, is almost immaterial: Putin and the Russian federation are almost certainly ultimately responsible. And yet European leaders do little but wring their hands and complain about the chaotic crash scene investigation and the recovery of bodies and personal effects.

No one expects European leaders to go to war with a nuclear power like Russia over such a provocation - but the repeated mincing of words by Obama and his Nato allies is nothing short of embarrassing. Well might Putin et al obfuscate until the outcry dies down.  But isn't it about time that the EU took some concerted action?  How about a strategic EU energy policy and plan to reduce all dependence on Russian gas within 10 years to zero by building a European supergrid powered from largely sustainable sources?

The problem with most forms of sustainable energy is that they require very large amounts of capital upfront, reasonable interest rates, and guaranteed feed in tariffs to be economically viable.  This is problematic at a time when many EU states - particularly those at the periphery are over-borrowed and under huge pressure to reduce Sovereign and private indebtedness. But how about making such capital available through the European Investment Bank for EU Commission approved projects?  

Irish and Scottish wind, wave and tidal turbines allied to eastern European and Mediterranean solar farms could make up a huge amount of the energy deficit created by a progressive reduction in Russian energy imports, whilst at the same time providing a much needed boost to investment and employment starved peripheral EU economies.  Would it be too much to ask the EU to be proactive and actually take the lead in such a continent wide project?  Would it be too much to ask for the EU to actually have a continent wide energy policy?

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Gaza

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 25th, 2014 at 07:22:01 AM EST

I haven't written about Gaza because some things are just too evil for human comprehension.  Who uses flechette and white phosphorous shells on civilian populations? Flechette shells available here at Ammo To Go at a reduced price of $21.95...

When listening to Netanyahu It is difficult to comprehend the enormity of the irony that the people on whom the Holocaust was perpetrated are now engaging in similar genocide themselves, and doing so with a self-righteous pomposity that beggars belief.

When you look at the map below, who can doubt the central thesis of my diary Israel/Palestine: One state or two? written almost 7 years ago (that a separate Palestinian State is no longer viable)?

But seven years on we are no closer to a political settlement in the region, and have, if anything, moved further away. Maybe those writers and religious seers  who predicted Armageddon have a point, at least as far as the chosen land and people are concerned. "Those whom the God's seek to destroy, they first make mad" (Sophocles, Antigone).

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Setting the stage for British withdrawal

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 16th, 2014 at 05:49:41 AM EST

Jean-Claude Juncker has now been formally elected at President of the European Commission by a 422 to 250 vote in the European Parliament.  Most Prime Ministers in Europe can only dream of such a wide margin of victory.  That vote follows on from his 26 to 2 vote victory in the European Council (made up of national heads of government). And Yet Nigel Farage, leader of England's UKIP, can only rage at the undemocratic nature of his election.  

It is ironic that the most vehement objections to Juncker's election have come from the UK - a country which has a whole House of Parliament made up of unelected Lords and which has just nominated one of that number  - Lord Hill - to be Britain's next member of the Commission.  It seems democracy only becomes an issue when you don't get your own man appointed through some kind of back room deal. The UK's ignorance of and contempt for EU institutions has now come to bite it severely in the back-side.  

Cameron's influence in the EU is now at an all time low and will not be helped by his replacement of Foreign Secretary William Hague by the Eurosceptic Philip Hammond in a Government reshuffle which also sees a number of other prominent Eurosceptics promoted. When this is combined with the UK's likely loss of Baroness Ashton's (another ex-member of the House of Lords) post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, it looks as if the stage is being set for an ever more distant relationship between the EU and UK.

Why anyone in the EU (apart from Ireland) should now be bothered about anything Cameron has to do or say is beyond me. Should Scotland vote for Independence another barrier to England going it's own way and departing the EU will have been removed. Northern Ireland's constitutional status will again be destabilized, and who knows how that will play out - possibly for the better - but it could be a long and painful process. Cameron could yet be known as the Prime Minister who led England to the break-up of the UK. Certainly the EU will not be weakened by his antics.

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Juncker: A triumph for European Democracy?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 30th, 2014 at 03:23:45 AM EST

So. Juncker was the duly elected Spitzenkandidat for the post of President of the European Commission for the EPP, the party which won the most seats in the European Parliament elections. He subsequently gained the support of 26 out of 28 Heads of Government and State on the European Council.  And yet British Tories rage at the undemocratic nature of his election. Apparently he is an old school European who doesn't represent the will of the people as reflected in the outcome of the elections.  

Except he does.  This is the first time that voters could directly influence the choice of European Commission President with their vote.  The fact that many voters knew little of the Spitzenkandidat system is neither here nor there. People vote for a party for a variety of reasons, and not always because they like the party leader. Most Prime Ministers are not directly elected by the whole electorate either. Junker has greater democratic legitimacy than any candidate Cameron or a group of cronies on the Council could have come up with, and it is telling that they couldn't even come up with an alternative candidate:  Martin Shultz, Spitzenkandidat for the Socialists & Democrats, the second largest grouping in the Parliament would have been even more unacceptable to them.

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Letter to my local Member of Parliament.

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jun 17th, 2014 at 12:17:47 PM EST

Stephen Donnelly is one of five TD's (Members of Parliament) elected in my local constituency of Wicklow.  He is the sole Independent elected together with 3 Fine Gael and one Labour TD.  Remarkably neither Fianna Fail nor Sinn Fein won a seat, so he is the only opposition member from the constituency.  

Since his election he has shown a wide range of competence on economic and social issues  challenging the Government's austerity policies and representing an articulate voice for alternative policies.  Recently the Government screwed up and failed to secure a majority on the long delayed banking inquiry Dail Committee.  To rectify this situation, the Government later appointed two additional members. Stephen resigned in protest.

Whilst he had an arguable case, I think, on balance, he made a mistake. All Dail Committees are voted in by the Dail, and there is no constitutional bar to the Government holding a second vote if it manages to lose the first one.  Sure, the committee might have been seen as being more genuinely independent had it not had a Government majority, but at the end of the day all committee findings have to be approved and acted on by the governing Dail Majority.

Now, without Stephen Donnelly, the Committee will have a lot less credibility and impact. I don't think the short term gain of embarrassing the Government outweighs that loss. Stephen has also said he is thinking of joining a political party in order to gain more influence and power in politics.  I think that would be a major mistake at a time when Independents are gaining an ever greater share of the vote. Hence my letter to Stephen below:

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Judging Gays

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jan 16th, 2014 at 08:39:00 AM EST

Why do religious gay bashers claim they are only preaching the Gospels when in fact they generally quote St. Paul rather than Jesus in support of their homophobia and misogyny?
McAleese and church stance on gays - Letters | The Irish Times - Thu, Jan 16, 2014

Sir, – Fr Patrick McCafferty (January 15th) states, “The church unequivocally proclaims the message of the Gospel ” and goes on to quote twice from Romans in support of his argument concerning homosexuality and church teaching. As he is no doubt aware, Romans is not, in fact, a gospel. Why is it that the opponents of gay rights generally quote St Paul rather than Jesus? Could it be because Jesus never actually condemned homosexuality, and indeed healed the centurion’s sick pais (male servant/lover)? – Yours, etc, FRANK SCHNITTGER

Former President Mary McAlease has stirred a bit of a hornets nest with her comments on the Catholic Church and homosexuality:

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Transformation of an economy

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 27th, 2013 at 03:09:50 AM EST

Since 2007 the number of people employed in the Irish economy who do not have a secondary education qualification has reduced by 50%. The numbers of people employed who do have only a secondary educational qualification has reduced by 20%.  But the numbers of people employed with a tertiary educational qualification has increased by 12%.

Many will view this as confirmation that Ireland is being transformed into a knowledge based economy. Another way of looking at it is that the working class in Ireland has been devastated by the recession, whereas the middle class has (relatively speaking) prospered.

There are many factors at play here: The devastation of the Irish construction sector since 2007; the rise in participation rates in tertiary education; and the growth of the mostly foreign owned multinational companies in the ICT, pharmaceutical and services sectors.

Many employees who did not have a third level qualification in 2007 will have retired from the workforce or have achieved a third level qualification since. Most of the new entrants into the workforce since 2007 will have had a much higher level of education than previous cohorts, and some of these will have come from a working class background.

However the educational system is still overwhelmingly the mechanism by which the middle class can propagate itself:

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Nelson Mandela RIP

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 6th, 2013 at 02:09:57 AM EST

I first became aware of Nelson Mandela in a personal way, when, as a 17 year old undergraduate student, I came in contact with South Africans who had been banned by the Apartheid regime for their political activities and who were now campaigning for an end to Apartheid throughout Europe.

Basil Moore, author of an anthology of Black Theology which included a contribution from Steve Biko had been banned for campaigning against Apartheid in his role as General Secretary of the South African University Christian Movement.  He lived under house arrest, his neighbours hung and strung up the the family pet from a lamp post outside their home, and he eventually escaped by sneaking across the border into Zimbabwe. Eva Strauss was banned for marrying a black man (and also perhaps for her outspoken political and feminist views). Colin Winter, Bishop-in-exile of Namibia had been deported for his opposition to Apartheid in Namibia and support for striking migrant workers.

All spoke with a moving personal touch. Politics was no longer some remote political struggle thousands of miles away. It wasn't just a cerebral and ideological battle: It was about how you lived your own life; it was also about the struggle against racism here at home. It was about the structures of international capitalism which made Apartheid possible, and which could also be part of its downfall.

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Unions 1, Plutocrats 0

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 5th, 2013 at 04:09:49 PM EST


The owners of England's 12 elite Premiership professional rugby clubs have confirmed that they are pulling out of next years Heineken Cup, the elite European professional Rugby Union Club competition, having failed to persuade their French counterparts to join with them in a breakaway "European Rugby Champions Cup". This means that (just as in 1998/99) the Heineken Cup will be competed for just by the leading French, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian Clubs. It is unclear, at this stage, whether English clubs will compete in the secondary Amlin Cup, which is also open to clubs from other European countries.

The dispute centred on money - the shareout of the proceeds of TV rights, the qualification process, and governance, with the Clubs wanting to take over the running of the competition from the ERC, which is in turn run by the National Unions of France, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy. Up until now, each national Union was guaranteed a specified share of the proceeds and the number of clubs from each country which would qualify. This had the effect of ensuring that weaker countries, (and smaller commercial markets) had a guaranteed share of the spoils.

The smaller Unions - Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Italy - agreed that in future the qualification process and share of the proceeds would be shared equally between the three major leagues - the English Premiership, the French top 14 and the Rabodirect Pro-12 - which would effectively mean that the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Welsh Unions and their clubs would collectively receive no more than one third of the qualification places and share of the spoils - the same as the English and French Clubs.

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Bailing out the austerity hawks

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 5th, 2013 at 12:59:40 PM EST


Ajai Chopra (left) of the IMF and an unidentified colleague pass a beggar as they make their way to the Central Bank in November 2010. Photograph: AP

It's easy to be Snarky about Ireland exiting the Troika Bail-out on the 15th. December, but it really is a big deal for the Austerity Hawks: It proves (to them) that they were right all along, and that austerity "works". Ireland is the shining poster child to be waved in front of Greece, Spain, Portugal and every other prodigal state should they waver from the approved path of austerity. Some in Ireland are attributing historic significance to the bail-out exit, whilst others see it as merely escaping the tyranny of the Troika for the tender mercies of the international sovereign debt markets.

But it also does no good to deny that a significant economic recovery is now underway in Ireland (from a very low base), so does this prove all the Keynesians wrong? I would argue that neither proposition is correct: Ireland has succeeded (insofar as it has) for neither the standard Austerity or Keynesian reasons and has done so due to factors that are mostly non-generalizable to other economies. To understand the Irish recovery, you have to understand an almost unique combination of factors that is making it possible.

Given that the scope and sustainability of Ireland's economy is still under debate, I will begin by offering some evidence for and against the recovery hypothesis and then suggest some reasons as to why it might be happening.

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Ryanair Reborn? - now with Poll at no extra charge

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 25th, 2013 at 12:57:35 PM EST


Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary

Ryanair has long been a source of a national embarrassment in Ireland. On the one hand it is one of the few truly successful Irish owned corporates which have succeeded in growing global in scope. On the other hand, it's corporate ethos, anti-union attitudes, and poor customer service and public relations have been... well embarrassing is perhaps too kind a word.

Recently the controversial Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary, has apparently had a blinding revelation on the road to Damascus. He has come to realize what many of us have known and been saying for years: his persona and the corporate culture that has grown from it have become a threat to Ryanair's ongoing growth and development.  What was once a successful business model for a brash small start-up taking on the staid and expensive national flag carriers and aiming mostly for the young back-packer market - is now not helping Ryanair to continue to expand market share from its current position as the largest airline in Europe.

Many travelers now refuse to fly with Ryanair almost on principle; some because of its anti-union attitudes, some because of some bad experience with rude staff, some because the Ryanair website has become extremely awkward and irritating to navigate, and some because they do not wish to be herded like cattle and have to endure uncomfortable seats. This has meant that Ryanair passenger numbers have been rising more slowly than its major rival, Easyjet, despite the fact that Easyjet generally charges higher fares on its routes. Whilst trying to portray Ryanair's often low fares as a virtue, in reality, they have become a necessity if Ryanair is to attract passengers from other airlines - even when others are considerably more expensive.

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Irish Budget abolishes corporate tax avoidance schemes

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 15th, 2013 at 02:02:11 PM EST

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan delivered his 2014 budget to the Dail today - about 2 months earlier than usual to give the European Commission more time to review and approve its provisions. Taoiseach Enda Kenny had announced last weekend that Ireland would exit the bailout programme on December 15th., so this is the last budget to be overseen by the Troika.

The Troika had sought to insist that Noonan take 3.1 Billion (= 1.9% of GDP) out of the economy in tax increases and spending cuts, a call supported by the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Government has restricted this to €2.5 Billion (= 1.5% of GDP) made up of spending reduction (€1.6 Billion) and tax increases of (€0.9 Billion).

This is planned to reduce the budget deficit from 7.3% in 2013 (Troika target 7.5%) to 4.8% of GDP in 2014 (Troika target 5.1%) and 2.9% in 2015. This should be sufficient to generate a small primary surplus next year and reduce the overall Government debt to GDP ratio to 120 percent at end-2014, 118.4 percent at end-2015 and 114.6 percent at the end of 2016. Despite this contractionary policy, the Government is forecasting 0.2% GDP growth in 2013, rising to 2.0% in 2014.

From a US perspective it is noteworthy that Ireland's national debt and projected annual deficits are much higher than that of the USA and yet no one is panicking. On the positive side, at least we have a functioning budgetary process!

Of more interest to international observers, Mr. Noonan has announced that companies will no longer be able to incorporate in Ireland without also being tax resident here, and so will not be able to use tax avoidance schemes like the double Irish and dutch sandwich to evade the Irish corporation tax rate of 12.5%. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have been in the news recently for utilizing such schemes to move Billion of Euros to tax havens like Bermuda virtually tax free.

The issue of low Irish corporate tax rates is reported to have surfaced in German coalition talks between the CDU and SPD, and so the timing of this change may not be entirely unrelated. Whether he is doing Merkel a favour or seeking to relieve pressure on Ireland to increase it's 12.5% Corporate Tax rate is unclear. The measure is not scheduled to kick in until 1st. Jan, 2015 and so will not effect revenues for 2014. It has not been stated how much additional revenue the Minister expects to collect from this measure in future years, and whether he expects some multinationals to relocate outside Ireland in response to his change.

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Government attempt to abolish Irish Senate defeated

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 6th, 2013 at 02:05:48 AM EST

Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel on the evening of April 7, 1775, but perhaps it is populism which is the last refuge of the modern political scoundrel. Ever since the Irish economic crash and the failure of the political system to properly regulate, and then resolve the Irish banking industry, politicians and politics have often been seen as the most egregious form of low life in the country.

Seeking to capitalize on this unpopularity, the Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, decided, almost on a whim, that it would be a good idea and an easy win for the Government parties to propose the abolition of the Irish Senate in a referendum to be put to the people. Despite a range of opinion polls showing large majorities in favour, that strategy has just blown up in his face with a narrow 52 to 48% majority of the electorate voting against his proposal.

The main arguments being put in favour of the abolition of the Senate where that:

  1. The Senate has relatively few powers under the Irish constitution and generally has a significant built in Government majority thanks to the Taoiseach having the power to nominate 11 members.

  2. The lack of a popular mandate. Some Senators are elected by University graduates only, and most of the others are elected by local county Councillors to represent notionally vocational groups but are in practice mostly politicians who failed to win election to the Dail or lower chamber by universal suffrage.

  3. Numerous proposals to reform the archaic nature of the Senate electorate have to date come to nothing.

  4. A small country like Ireland doesn't require a bicameral system of governance.

  5. Abolishing the Senate could lead to an annual cost saving of up to €20 Million p.a., although this figure is disputed and is in any case trivial in comparison to the cost of the public service as a whole.

Nobody on the NO campaign side sought to deny that the Senate was in need of fundamental reform, although proposals for reform varied greatly. But what the NO vote did perhaps indicate was that the electorate wanted more political accountability, not less.

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The EU Stupid Expands

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 12th, 2013 at 01:10:59 PM EST

Paul Krugman has again been making some apposite comments on the EU economic crisis. First he slams Olli Rehn [European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro] for being an ideological neo-liberal contemptuous of French democracy and with no real interest in furthering economic recovery in the EU:

The Austerian Mask Slips - NYTimes.com

Simon Wren-Lewis looks at France, and finds that it is engaging in a lot of fiscal austerity -- far more than makes sense given the macroeconomic situation. He notes, however, that France has eliminated its structural primary deficit mainly by raising taxes rather than by cutting spending.

And Olli Rehn -- who should be praising the French for their fiscal responsibility, their willingness to defy textbook macroeconomics in favor of the austerity gospel -- is furious, declaring that fiscal restraint must come through spending cuts.

As Wren-Lewis notes, Rehn is very clearly overstepping his bounds here: France is a sovereign nation, with a duly elected government -- and is not, by the way, seeking any kind of special aid from the Commission. So he has no business whatsoever telling the French how big their government should be.

But the larger point here, surely, is that Rehn has let the mask slip. It's not about fiscal responsibility; it never was. It was always about using hyperbole about the dangers of debt to dismantle the welfare state. How dare the French take the alleged worries about the deficit literally, while declining to remake their society along neoliberal lines?

There was a time when France was proud enough to stop such idiotic meddling in its affairs: Is there nothing that Olli Rehn can do or say that might get him sacked?

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A Sociological Experiment

by Frank Schnittger Tue Aug 20th, 2013 at 07:38:09 AM EST

Peoples sense of humour can vary enormously. What is funny to me may not appeal to you at all. I give you, below, the top ten one-liner jokes at this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Apparently the Chinese Wispa joke got almost 25% of the total votes for first place, but I find it only mildly funny. Please vote for one of the top ten below and let's see how the distribution of ET humour works out...

Have you heard the one about the funniest joke in Edinburgh?

Last year's funniest joke was from Stewart Francis, who said: "You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks."

In 2011, the best joke went to Nick Helm for his joke: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

The top ten jokes of the festival are:

1. Rob Auton - "I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa."

2. Alex Horne - "I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying."

3. Alfie Moore - "I'm in a same-sex marriage... the sex is always the same."

4. Tim Vine - "My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island. I said to him 'Don't be Sicily'."

5. Gary Delaney - "I can give you the cause of anaphylactic shock in a nutshell."

6. Phil Wang - "The Pope is a lot like Doctor Who. He never dies, just keeps being replaced by white men."

7. Marcus Brigstocke - "You know you are fat when you hug a child and it gets lost."

8. Liam Williams - "The universe implodes. No matter."

9. Bobby Mair - "I was adopted at birth and have never met my mum. That makes it very difficult to enjoy any lapdance."

10. Chris Coltrane - "The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately."

Alternatively, you can post, in the comments, a joke which really does appeal to you... The first prize is a free subscription to my new blog. The second prize is two free subscriptions...ok, ok, you heard that one before.

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News and Views

 20-21 September 2014

by DoDo - Sep 19, 53 comments

Your take on today's news media

 19 September 2014

by In Wales - Sep 18, 39 comments

Your take on today's news media

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by afew - Sep 19, 28 comments

Here beginneth the Weeke ende

 Midweek Open Thread

by Helen - Sep 17, 17 comments

this monkey's gone to heaven

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